When market competition heats up, you might provide extra incentives for your sales staff to perform. But be careful: some employees may step over the line — to earn bigger bonuses or out of enthusiasm for the challenge — and use unethical sales tactics. Take steps to make sure your salespeople always operate with integrity.
Make a commitment to honesty
Culture starts at the top. If you clearly demonstrate, through both words and behavior, your commitment to honesty, your sales team will get the message. Your customers will, too.
Try to anticipate the challenges your sales force may face as they attempt to meet sales goals. The temptation to sell more than your company can deliver, for example, or to recommend a product they know is not the best solution for a customer’s problem, may be strong. Those and similar sales strategies may land the account, but they do nothing to build the trust and credibility your business needs to keep that account over the long haul.
It also is important that your company and salespeople do not try to slip through loopholes when a situation requires taking responsibility. For example, some insurance companies that wrote coverage on homes and businesses damaged during Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, and Hurricane Harvey lost goodwill by quibbling over what damage was covered. Ensuing legal battles and negative publicity have done nothing to raise consumer confidence in the insurance industry.
Promote lasting relationships
When your salespeople make a sale, require them to be clear about what the sale includes and what it does not. Reiterate that their job is not simply to make sales, but to build lasting customer relationships. To do that, they must always keep the customers’ best interests in mind. To make sure the message gets heard, consider tying compensation to customer satisfaction and repeat business, in addition to sales revenue quotas.
That may mean acknowledging, for example, that one of your products will not do everything the customer needs it to do. If a customer asks about a feature your product does not have, your sales reps should not imply that it does. Instead, they should work with the customer to determine whether the desired feature is necessary and emphasize your product’s other features and benefits. Ultimately, however, they must be honest about any limitations.
Your sales force does not need to steer customers to competitors, but they should not disparage the competition, either. And incentivizing customers to load up on unneeded products during promotions may boost the bottom line, but it will not do much to build trust.
Too often sales staff are encouraged to focus on short-term goals, which makes them more likely to do ‘whatever it takes’ to get a sale. It is up to you and your managers to prioritize the kind of ethical behavior that is crucial to your company’s long-term success.